Posted by James Sage, Partner
Covid-19 FAQs: Managing your care workforce
We have been providing extensive advice to care providers on managing the workforce issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic. Here are our answers to some FAQs we have received.
Q. Are employees entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if they self-isolate?
Employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are self-isolating because:
- they have coronavirus or symptoms (e.g. high temperature or a continuous cough)
- a member of their household has coronavirus or symptoms
- they have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
Q: Are “vulnerable groups” (those aged over 70, with underlying health conditions or pregnant) required to self-isolate?
PHE recommends that staff in these groups, who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus, be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. However, they are not advised to self-isolate so, unless one of the circumstances requiring self-isolation applies, are unlikely to be entitled to SSP.
You should carry out risk assessments for pregnant workers, taking into account the risks posed by coronavirus and the PHE social distancing guidance. If you cannot provide a safe working environment, you may be required to medically suspend on full pay.
Q: What changes are made by the Coronavirus Act?
The Coronavirus Act introduces the following changes:
- SSP to be payable from the first day of sickness absence with effect from 13 March 2020.
- SSP reimbursement for employers with less than 250 employees for the first 14 days of SSP paid to employees.
Q: How do we get evidence of a worker’s unfitness for work?
The Government has introduced new online isolation notes to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Staff who are advised by PHE to self-isolate can obtain a notification via the NHS website or NHS 111 which they can use as evidence for absence from work. Staff can still self-certify for the first 7 days’ absence.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that the Government will reimburse employers with less than 250 employees for the first 14 days of SSP paid to employees.
Q: Can providers benefit from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
The Government has introduced the CJRS to enable employers to designate employees as “furloughed workers” (i.e. remain at home without work) and claim grants to cover 80% of wages costs up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The Guidance creates uncertainty about whether employers in receipt of public funding are eligible under the CJRS. The Guidance states “Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs.” This appears to contradict earlier guidance that all businesses and charities could participate in the Scheme.
The Government’s position appears to be that providers who are privately funded are eligible under the Scheme and those who only receive public funding are not. It is unclear what the position would be for providers who have a mix of private and public funding and it would be difficult for HMRC to determine the source of funding for staff costs in this scenario.
The Guidance also states “In a small number of cases, for example where organisations are not primarily funded by the government and whose staff cannot be redeployed to assist with the coronavirus response, the scheme may be appropriate for some staff.” This suggests that even if providers are potentially eligible they have to make efforts to redeploy staff in the sector before being able to utilise the Scheme, but no further details of the requirements have been provided.
We cannot see any reasonable justification for the disparity of treatment between providers in receipt of private and public funding. All organisations are facing unprecedented challenges and need flexibility and financial support to meet the changing requirements of their workforce. Given the significant operational challenges faced by the sector due to the coronavirus pandemic, we hope that the Government will confirm that all health and social care providers can benefit from the Scheme.
The law and guidance in this area is changing frequently. This guidance note is correct as of 31 March 2020.
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